Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
VANCOUVER — In spring, when much of Canada still sits under a blanket of snow, Vancouver blushes. Its pink cherry blossoms spread across the city, often floating in waves across the streets. Lush and well-watered, Vancouver’s gardens are a haven for other Canadians looking to escape the last vestiges of winter, and they’re a delight year round.
Gardens in the Centre of the City
Visitors to the downtown core will notice myriad tiny food gardens in the strangest of places. In 2006, Vancouver’s city council put out a challenge to create 2,010 food garden plots by the Winter Olympics in 2010. Vancouverites responded in spades (and shovels!), and there are now more than 3,000 community garden plots.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden
If you’re wandering through Chinatown, you may notice a walled building near the Chinese Cultural Centre. This is the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. More than 50 master craftsmen from Suzhou, China built this garden in time for Vancouver’s Expo ’86. Stop at Sun Yat Sen to peek at the koi, and enjoy a steamed bun beside the bamboo. Sun Yat Sen Gardens has a free section that is open to the public, and the private garden offers tours about Chinese gardens and culture. As befits a Vancouver garden, Sun Yat Sen is made for the rain, with roof tiles that move the water down in melodious sheets. Relax after a walk around Chinatown with a cup of Chinese tea as you watch the rain fall into the garden. (578 Carrall Street)
Park and Tilford Garden
North Vancouver’s Park and Tilford Garden is a tiny gem of a garden in the oddest of places. Tucked between a building centre and a mall, this little garden once stood on land owned by Park and Tilford distilleries. This three-acre garden includes eight miniature garden zones, including a lovely rose garden with a gazebo. And it’s surrounded by another one of Vancouver’s obsessions: coffee shops. Park and Tilford is the perfect size for children, who will love the murals and spouting statues as well as the garden paths. (333 Brooksbank Avenue, North Vancouver)
VanDusen Botanical Garden
Close to the University of British Columbia, VanDusen Botanical Garden is huge. It’s known for its enchanting Christmas light displays and its amazing spring and summer blooms. The garden’s website features a bloom calendar, so that rhododendron lovers or crocus aficionados can find out exactly what is blooming when. The garden can be a long trek for children, but the hedge maze makes it all worthwhile. Made out of 3,000 cedars, this maze is a challenging one. Luckily, if you have enough people in your party, a few can stand atop the observation tower and shout directions. (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver)
UBC Botanical Garden
Once you reach the university, you’ll find a teaching garden that also delights visitors from around the world. The UBC Botanical Garden sits on the fringes of the University of British Columbia campus. The garden serves a research purpose, housing collections of unusual plants and hosting researchers from the Centre for Plant Research. It’s also a delight for the casual visitor. If you’re feeling vigorous, you’ll enjoy a visit to the treetop walkway. Those who are feeling faint of heart may want to wander through the intriguing Harold and Francis Holt Physic Garden, a garden of medicinal and poisonous plants.
Every October, the garden hosts an apple festival. Festival-goers can purchase apple trees and bags of apples and can taste dozens of varieties of heritage apples in the tasting tent. This event is highly recommended for gardeners and foodies alike. (6804 SW Marine Drive)
If the winter rains have you down, there’s no better place to enjoy a stroll around the garden than under the bubble at the Bloedel Conservatory. This hilltop conservatory sits in Queen Elizabeth Park, a delight to visit at any time of the year. Inside its warm dome, you’ll enjoy palms, bromeliads, and other plants from tropical places around the world. You’ll also be graced by the sounds of the many tropical birds that fly around the gardens. (Off 33rd Avenue between Cambie and Main Streets)
Wherever you wander in Vancouver, you’re likely to find gardens. Whether they’re street trees blowing blossoms or indoor menageries, Vancouver is the place to experience a brilliant, fragrant spring.